Over the past few months, talking to anyone, even family, about politics has become a guessing game of “Is this person on my side or not?” On social media, I avoid reposting any content regarding politics, because of the fear that people will respond in hostile ways and think less of me if they do not agree with my beliefs. This overwhelming feeling, that if your beliefs oppose that of your friends they will think less of you, is beyond isolating and has only furthered the gap of civil dialogue in American politics.
This political polarization in our country is a growing problem. Black-and-white takes on every issue are becoming more common, any middle of the aisle approach is considered not passionate enough, and hostility between political hemispheres is now the new normal. All of this contributes towards a lack of understanding between the parties, scarring the nation’s political landscape.
With the 2020 election, more American citizens are picking sides—and with these heightened tensions, we have, once again, become a divided nation. As the recent documentary The Social Dilemma brings to light, the facts that should be uniting us to find solutions, may not be as consistent as we think they are.
The biggest problem is that when discussing opposing views, there is often no understanding between the parties, likely because those perspectives are not based on the same narrative.
In 1994, 49% of Americans had mixed political views, standing in a grey area of a mix of both Democratic and Republican policies; in 2014, only 39% of Americans thought this way, and the political divide between our nation has only grown since then, says Pew Research. The result: right demonizing left and left demonizing right.
Through the development of the internet and social media, there is a growing number of people receiving their news online. 34% of adults in the U.S get their news online from websites and social media, and another 44% of adults get it from television programs. Prior to the rise of online media, individuals relied on newspapers to gain objective facts on the world around them. But with the internet, articles and posts are meant to consistently grab our attention through bold headlines and subjective takes. Pew research reports that falsehoods in mainstream news have increased since 1985 by 29%, meaning that currently over 63% of news in our media is false, one sided, or inaccurate. The news we read is incentivized by viewership and online shares to gain advertiser money and notoriety. The problem with this incentive system is that it is not in line with what news outlets claim their purpose is, which is to provide unbiased, true information with diverse perspectives. Instead of producing objective articles about what is going on in the country, media companies produce articles with flashy headlines that grab the attention of online viewers.
The media that is broadcasted to voters has a dramatic influence on how people perceive what’s going on around them. Of course, while we should be striving for pure, objective journalism to draw our worldview from, the pairing of busier lives online and contradicting accounts has made gaining an unbiased perspective even more difficult.
Contrastingly, before social media and websites configured by algorithms, everyone received the same information, from the radio, to the T.V., to the newspapers. Now, with our modern feed including such a diverse and inconsistent plethora of information, each person has a news feed designed for them. Algorithms suggest subjective articles and posts that align with your political interests. An MIT study presented that fake news on Twitter spreads six times faster than accurate news. This means that on our phones, computers, and televisions we are constantly surrounded by false information because of platforms like Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Our political battles have also become a battle ground of morality instead of policy: problems like deportation and abortion are great examples of this. Those who tout policy seem as if they don’t care about the people they hurt with their vote, and others who oppose the policy and care for the humans they affect seem unpatriotic; with such moral issues being discussed between parties, both sides begin to seem so completely opposite and hostile to each other. Rather than discussing this debate from a general perspective, we project it onto a figure like Trump to make it a partisan issue. Some claim that he is immoral and therefore he shouldn’t be president, while others do not care what his morals are but primarily the policies he puts forward and secondarily if those reflect on his actual views. This kind of thinking from both sides has made people nervous to discuss who their voting for and why because if you say you going to vote for Biden it is assumed you are a sensitive socialist who has no regard for the American structure of government, and if you say you are going to vote for Trump it’s assumed you are a racist, a misogynist, and have a lower moral compass.
Due to inaccurate information and an unwillingness to host civil discourse between individuals, people have stopped seeing in color and disregard the nuances of nation wide issues, which often cannot be black and white. For our nation, and for our campus we must take steps in the direction of bridging the divide between our differences. To see in color again and to relearn the importance of nuance in our political discussions is of utmost importance. It can’t always be “for” or “against” on such a large scale, because all that means is division– of our nation, our school, and of our personal relationships. Previously at Deerfield, the school used to hold events like Change my Mind, which is a fantastic display of the political discourse that we need between our students here at Deerfield and between our citizens more than ever.
We need to establish a mindset on the individual level, that it is okay to disagree, it is okay to feel both ways, it is okay to be uninformed and say, “I don’t know,” as long as you’re willing to go forward and do proper research. We also must hold our media accountable. Stop rewarding flashy headlines with clicks and shares, and instead rely on actual objective journalism and seek out all of the facts before jumping to support or destroy some policy or politician. Most importantly, to develop better political dialogue in our nation we need to listen! Listen to both sides of the argument, listen for the facts and credible sources to support each argument. It’s okay to change your beliefs! As humans we always want to think we know best, but it is not the right mindset to solve our nations issues, bridge polarization in our country, and most importantly make it out of this partisan crisis as one nation indivisible, as our founders intended.